The Philippines Air Force, hampered by a long-term funding shortage and faced with the growing obsolescence of its combat fleet, has turned to its own workshops to perform low-cost upgrades and overhauls to return some of its stored fleet to service. The reworked aircraft are desperately needed as the Philippines has shifted its emphasis from national defense to internal security operations against various insurgent political factions.
An aircraft recovery program was launched in 1996, resulting in a slow but steady return of military aircraft from mothballs to the operational fleet, covering types such as the Siai-Marchetti SF-260 and S-211, Sikorsky UH-76 helicopters and Cessna T-41 trainers. The PAF’s recent restoration program has focused on the three principal combat types: the MD 520MG Defender, the Rockwell OV-10 Bronco and Bell UH-1 Huey.
Five armed Defenders were brought back to operational status during 2004 and 2005, a process that included the manufacture of parts that were no longer available on the open market. The work has swelled the numbers of Defenders in the 15th Strike Wing to 16, many of which are deployed to areas of political unrest.
Partnering the Defender in the counterinsurgency war is the Bronco. The survivors of the PAF’s original 24-aircraft OV-10A fleet were augmented in September 2003 by the Thai government’s is donation of eight OV-10Cs. A program was also initiated to overhaul and upgrade six of the OV-10As to a new OV-10M standard.
The Bronco Service Life Extension program was developed in cooperation with Marsh Aviation of the U.S. and mainly concerns a rework of its Garrett AiResearch T76-G-10/12 turboprops. Modified aircraft are fitted with four-bladed Hartzell propellers that significantly enhance performance. The first two aircraft were handed over in August last year and were deployed to the south of the country for evaluation in operational conditions. The four other aircraft are to be redelivered this year.
The Bronco fleet also has acquired new weapons in the form of a 20-mm cannon pod. The pod is produced locally and uses the gun from surplus Northrop F-5s. The F-5 was the PAF’s last jet fighter, but the fleet was grounded in 2002 following a fatal crash. Despite a comprehensive and favorable inspection of the fleet in 2004, the defense arm decided to permanently retire the F-5 last October.
The Bell UH-1 fleet of the 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing is the backbone of the counterinsurgency effort, providing rapid mobility for army and police teams. Based at Benito Ebuen air base on Mactan island, the unit operates around 40 Hueys.